She forgot about our appointment repeatedly, up until the moment I arrived to pick her up. I was to photograph her in a white gown, with her long hair, always pinned into a loose bun, down. She never absorbed the part about the gown, and even in the studio she stepped up onto the platform in her clothes and looked hesitantly at the camera.
When I came over, she was dressing – pulling hangers of white, embroidered and cuffed shirts out of a two tiered closet, her short frame reaching into the neat darkness of the space and ruffling plastic coverings on dresses and coats. The girlish way her pile of white shirts lay scattered on the bed and elastic-waist pants intertwined on the rug was offset by the demodéd style of the garments. She changed from one shirt to another, kicked at a pair of pants that tripped her up, finally stepped into a pair of shoes and faced the mirror. “I paint my lips only from memory,” she giggled, and applied rouge. There was a lace coverlet on her pillow, a cheap photo calendar on her armoire, her great granddaughter’s plastic pink beads, an oriental-style rug – a mismatched décor where each item seemed out of context with the next and she floated incongruously amongst the planes.
Driving in the rain, she turned to me and asked quickly, “When will you get married?”
“I’m not planning on it any time soon,” I had responded, “Why?”
“Because I want to get so wasted at your wedding,” she sighed.
She’s wandered in and out my house for years, quietly attending every family gathering, taking her seat by the window or the fireplace, depending on the season, and with her honeyed gaze commanding a soft, sad attention of the guests. I don’t know her; I built up her personality based on her soap-soft features and it seems strange now to see her fall apart, an unwinding that takes with it her real self as well as the one I constructed, leaving only a rapidly tarnishing other.
It’s difficult to attempt to know a person and to try to disclose her in a photo at a time when she is getting lost. What is revealed? I wonder if the loss dominates in her uncertain gaze or if it is the steadfast anchors of her self that come through stronger in her pulchritude.